(and probably the only) people by whom those fights were legalized and publicly enjoined and sanctioned. Cock-fighting speedily became a most favourite pastime; and the philosopher Chrysippus (B. C. 320) did not deem it unworthy of him to notice and extol the courage of the fighting-cock. Public shows or spectacles consisting of these combats took place annually among the inhabitants of Pergamos, where, according to Petronius, it was so prevalent that school-boys were promised a fighting-cock by way of reward. Upon a lamp found beneath the buried ruins of Herculaneum were represented two cocks in an attitude that denoted them to be engaged in a mortal conflict : and the representations of cock-fights repeatedly found upon the coins and gems of the Greeks, Dardani, and other people, evidence the extension of the sport, and national importance it acquired. It was subsequently practised at Rome; though it was not thought so much of there as at Athens, the Romans exhibiting a far greater passion for partridge and quail fights, which hence became more general among them. .

The introduction of cock-fighting into England has been generally ascribed to Julius Cæsar, but we believe erroneously; as the passage in his Commentaries quoted in support of the assertion, would rather appear to prove (conclusively to our view) the existence of that sport among the ancient inhabitants of Britain prior to the landing of the Romans. Cæsar's words are,—“The interior part of Britain is inhabited by those who, by fame and report, are said to be born in the island itself. ...

They do not deem it lawful to eat the hare, the fowl, or the goose : nevertheless these animals are cherished (or brought up) for the sake of pleasure and dirersion.

In this passage Cæsar doubtless refers to the existence of some semi-religious ordinance or prohibition of the flesh of those animals by the Druids; but it is quite evident that the primitive inhabit-, ants of these isles were not only acquainted with fowls, but were accustomed to breed them for the sport and amusement they afforded.

The earliest distinct notice of cock-fighting in this country, however, is to be found in a very curious Description of London, by William FitzStephen, a writer of the time of Henry II. In this work, which was first published by Stow in 1598, the author states that the pastime was so generally in vogue that it was the customary game even of school-boys. Moreover, every year on the day which is called Carnicale, (as we have all been children, so therefore we begin with the games of children,) every one of the boys of the schools bring their fighting game-cocks to their masters ; and that morning the whole leisure of the boys is given to the sport, to see the fight of their cocks in the school.”

It is not surprising, therefore, that the pastime



thus encouraged (we might almost say, taught) in the school-houses, should have grown into universal popularity, and have acquired the importance of a national sport. In the reign of Edward III. so general had it become, that it was found necessary, in 1366, to check it, in a proclamation issued for the purpose, as it set forth, of putting down the practice then so prevalent, of playing at “Idle and Unlawful Pastimes," among which cockfighting was classed. Du Cange informs us that a similar attempt was made a century before in France, where combats with cocks were prohibited by an Act of the Council. But it requires something more than a royal proclamation or decree to uproot or revolutionize the ancient sports or customs of a nation; and cock-fighting continued to flourish in this country: and in the time of Henry VIII. even royalty itself had become reconciled to the “ Idle and Unlawful Pastime;" and a “Ryghte royall” cock-pit was added to Whitehall by that monarch, for his own especial amusement. In consequence of the mischievous results attending cock-fights, Queen Elizabeth, in 1569, issued a royal proclamation for their suppression, though it does not seem that her effort to put them down was attended with any better success than the attempt made by Edward III., as Stow, the antiquary, writing at the close of the 16th century says, “Cocks of the Game are still cherished by

divers men for their pleasure ; much money being


laid upon their heads when they fight in pits, whereof some are costly made for that purpose.”

It is also recorded that even the rigid Scotchman, James I., indulged himself twice a week in the diversions of the cock-pit.

Charles II, had one exclusively appropriated to himself and court, upon the spot now used for the Privy Council offices: and, it is said, that monarch was the first who instituted the sanguinary combat known as the “ Battle Royal,” (in honour of the regal founder,) in which a number of cocks, armed with spurs, were set to fight until one alone survived, to lament, as Alexander did, that he had no rival left to conquer !

Apropos of arming game-cocks with artificial spurs, Mr. Pegge says, that it was left to the refined cruelty of the English to invent that addition to the legs of the poor fowl in order to increase the bloody barbarity of the sport: but a passage in Aristophanes, which has since passed into a proverb, (tolle calcar si pugnas,) would seem to imply that this mode of shortening the duration of the conflicts was not unknown to the Greeks.

During the reign of the Merry Monarch, the sunshine of royal favour being extended to the sport, a passionate love for it pervaded every class of society, as we are informed by Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy, wherein he gives a general view of the sports in vogue in his day. And in the present state of society, we are surprised to

[ocr errors]


learn that ladies of rank and education used then to frequent and countenance the unfeminine sights of the pit: the pastime being apparently regarded rather as a polite and fashionable acquirement. Thus Powell in his Cornish Comedy, 1696, introduces a young heir of fortune, who with much point is made to exclaim,—“What is a gentleman without his recreations? Hawks, &c., and Cocks with their appurtenances, are true marks of a country gentleman! .... My Cocks are true Cocks of the Game : I make a match, and £100 or £200 are then soon won, for I never fight a battle under !”

In Scotland cock-fighting was formerly as usual at the schools as it was in Fitz-Stephen's time; and according to Brand, it continued in vogue until nearly the close of the last century, the masters encouraging the sport among their scholars, and claiming the craven cocks as their perquisite under the name of " fugees,” or fugitives. It remained a favourite pastime in this country also, down to a period quite as recent. An attempt was made to suppress it in 1736, by a statute rendering it illegal to keep or provide public pits for such spectacles; but it was unsuccessful: and it was not until a sufficiently strong feeling against it was awakened in the public mind, that it was generally and effectually put down.

At the present day, we still occasionally hear of matches being clandestinely fought in some of our remote rural districts. In Spain, South

« VorigeDoorgaan »